Finding the Light in the Winter: Mindful Practices to Warm Your Spirit

Shorter Days.  Icy temperatures.  Slippery roads.  Snow.  Do you ever get the ‘wintertime blues’? Do you sometimes feel like you have less energy, are more prone to depressed moods, or struggle to motivate yourself to act?  I’ve been there!

While I love the beauty of the snow, the cozy feelings that the winter brings, and the hibernation of the earth, I do find myself getting antsy for the blooms and renewal of springtime.  I am also reminded that earth needs winter, just as it needs summer, and fall, and spring.  This deep sleep that it takes from December through March help replenish our water sources, nurture our plants’ natural cycles, and prepare for the re-birth of spring.

Psychologists use a term called “seasonal affective disorder” to help describe what some of us might feel during these long, dark, cold winter days.  SAD is a clinical term to describe a form of depression that most commonly occurs in the wintertime (but did you know that you can feel effects of SAD all year round?) and is much more than just feeling tired or having low energy.  SAD expert Norman E. Rosenthal states that it can affect up to 14 million people each year (or about 14% of American adults), as explained in his book  Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Common symptoms include:

  • Your functioning is significantly impaired. You have difficulty completing tasks that were easier before; you’re falling behind with bills and chores; you make mistakes more often or take longer to finish projects; you tend to withdraw from loved ones.
  • You feel considerably depressed. You feel sad more often than not; you feel guilty or hopeless about the future; you have negative thoughts about yourself that you don’t have at other times of the year.
  • Your physical functions are greatly disrupted. During the wintertime, you sleep more or have a hard time getting up in the morning; you’d rather stay in bed all day; your eating habits have changed.

Light therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and some antidepressant medications have been proven to help alleviate some of these symptoms.  Mindfulness, or the act of experiencing the present moment in a non-judgmental way, is especially helpful in treating forms of depression.

No matter what time of year it is, each season brings its own variety of joy, celebration, and tradition.  If you’re finding yourself waiting for the first day of spring, try to allow yourself to be mindful of the gifts of the present — winter — because you might be missing it come mid-August!

Here are a few simple mindfulness practices to ground you in the present moment, receive its gifts, and focus on what’s meaningful to you right here, right now.

  • Get in your body.  Whether you are inside or outside, move your body in a purposeful, attention-focused way.  Walk up the stairs of your house and pay attention to each step and how it feels for your feet to set down on each stair.  Stretch your legs, your arms, your torso, your feet, your hands and all parts of your body — yoga can be a great way to mindfully experience your body and get some exercise too. If you’re stuck inside, turn your household chores into mindful activities!
  • Find the sun.  If you live in a climate where the sun shines in the winter, make sure to get at least 30 minutes of direct sunlight each day.  If the sun is scarce, you can get a light box and experience similar effects.  Sunlight is directly responsible for producing serotonin and melatonin, which can regulate mood and sleep.
  • Exercise: yoga and Pilates are especially helpful for paying attention to heart rate and breath, which ground you in your body in a mindful way.  When you are moving your body regularly, you can modify your stress response and consequently fight depression.
  • Eat foods that give you plenty of vitamin D.  Vitamin D is found in sunlight, which helps regulate mood and serotonin levels.  Foods such as tuna and salmon are rich in vitamin D and omega-3.  If you don’t want to eat these, take an omega-3 fatty acid supplement which can be found at your local natural foods store.
  • Eat for the season! What fresh foods are found in your region during the winter?  Cooking with these fresh, natural foods will help you feel like you’re fully experiencing and enjoying the season.
  • Connect with people and activities that you love.  Have you wanted to learn to knit?  Are you wanting to plan for your spring garden?  Do you love to make soups?  Do you love getting massages or acupuncture? Winter is a great time to indulge in cozy, nourishing self-care activities that you may have put off for months.
  • Here’s a great worksheet from mindfulhub.com that outlines many of the ideas mentioned here.

If you’re feeling a bit “sad” this winter, you’re not alone!  Try to remember what the winter has to offer — and the fun mythology tales that describe our history with the seasons.  Spring will come, the sun will shine again, and earth will flourish in greens, oranges, blues, purples, pinks, reds, and every color under the rainbow once more 🙂

If you’re looking for a little bit of support to cope with the wintertime blues, I offer complimentary consultations to see if we’d be a good fit to work together.  Please call me at 720-340-1443 today!